Localize Your Food being rolled out at Co-op stores in February

When walking into a grocery store, one doesn’t typically think of coffee as local food.

But for Lita McDonald, director of business development for Localize Your Food, coffee could be just that. The ingredients may not be local, but roasting the coffee beans in Calgary scores some local “points.”

Localize Your Food identifies local food products in grocery stores to provide consumers with easy-to-access information about the product.Lita McDonald from Localize Your Food walks around the Midtown Market Calgary Co-op on 11th Avenue S.W., pointing out ways to identify local food.

Photo by Aryn Guthrie 

The program rates certain local products on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being considered the most local. Consumers will be able to scan a QR code to get more information about the product and the rating.

The program will be implemented in all Calgary Co-ops by the end of February.

Criteria for the rating include:

• Location of food production
• Business ownership
•Ingredient origins
• Method of food production

McDonald says Localize Your Food was born out of an idea and a frustration — not being able to find local foods at the average grocery store.

Why buy local?

“The benefit of buying local is that the money that is generated by the business stays within the community,” McDonald says.

“Because of the climate, it is challenging to think of local in terms of the food miles. So, we really need to talk about what is local and how local is it, especially in the context of an environment where we don’t grow our own fruit.”

As McDonald walks around the Midtown Market Calgary Co-op on 11th Avenue S.W., she zeros in on a package of tomatoes shipped from Israel.

“Why are we shipping these from overseas, when we could be getting tomatoes from Mexico or even California? Seasonality is a big issue, but check the label,” she says in frustration.

Spotting local made faster and easier

Cindy Drummond, spokesperson for Calgary Co-op, says that trying to find local food products can be time consuming.
“(Consumers) have to be prepared to pick up a handful of products, compare them, and make an informed choice that is going to take some time and energy,” she says.

“Young families don’t have time to be looking at every label to find out if it was grown here, or if it was grown somewhere else.

“A simple, easily identifiable bright orange sticker will make it super fast.”

Distrust with consumers

What to search for

 McDonald suggests a few tips and tricks on how to identify local foods at your own grocery store.

1. Always check the label.

2. Just because some ingredients aren’t grown in Calgary, doesn’t mean there are no local aspects to the product. Consider ownership and location of food production.

3. Local doesn’t always mean more expensive.

4. Checking the Localize Your Food database for information on a product.

McDonald continues on to the salad dressing. She picks up a bottle with the words “Proudly Canadian” on the back, but as McDonald points out, even some labels can be misleading when trying to identify local food.

“What does that really mean? It could just mean it was bottled in Canada,” she says with the product made elsewhere.

McDonald says there is a general distrust among consumers when a company identifies something as local.

“Wal-Mart for example, they have a picture of their produce section and overtop of the entire produce section is this banner that says local, and there are some apples on it,” McDonald says. “As a consumer, many might question what this means.”

Remaining Independent

One of the biggest challenges for Localize Your Food has been remaining independent from their association with Calgary Co-op.

“They are paying for our service, but they haven’t influenced us in our mission of transparency,” McDonald says. She adds that they try to maintain this by having their own voice, including activities outside of Calgary Co-op.

McDonald hopes to expand the business to other grocery stores, aiming to generate money.

“As much as I’d like to believe in philanthropy and the good of people that you could make this a non-for-profit, I really think in order to make people value something there needs to be skin in the game,” McDonald says, referring to other grocers that she hopes will pay for the program as well.

aguthrie@cjournal.ca